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deadpresidents · 20 hours ago
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Any books you'd particularly recommend outside of US/Presidential history?
I always will take opportunities like this question to recommend Charles Emmerson's 2019 book, Crucible: The Long End of the Great War and the Birth of a New World, 1917-1924 (BOOK | KINDLE). I know it'll sound like hyperbole, but I am not exaggerating: it's one of the best books I've ever read, if not the best. It has stayed with me ever since I finished it, largely because of how absolutely riveting Emmerson's writing style is. I don't know if I've ever read a single book that has told so many incredible stories about so many remarkable people and so many fascinating places. And it does so without ever losing its overall focus or confusing the reader. I love this book and every time I see it on one of my bookshelves I get jealous that I can't read it for the first time over-and-over again.
Another book that immediately comes to mind is Lawrence Wright's Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (BOOK | KINDLE), which I'm sure many others would back me up on. I'm a huge fan of all of Lawrence Wright's work, so you can't go wrong with any of his other books, particularly The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (BOOK | KINDLE) and The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State (BOOK | KINDLE), both of which are journalism at its very best. And I understand you asked about books that didn't have anything to do with the Presidency, but it would be criminal if I didn't also suggest Wright's excellent history of the 1978 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David (BOOK | KINDLE). The difficult peace negotiations between President Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat are detailed so intimately that Wright originally began writing it as a play, and the storytelling remains just as vivid as if it were being performed on a stage.
By no means is that a complete list of suggestions, but those are the first books that came to mind when reading your question. But, seriously, don't hesitate to read Charles Emmerson's Crucible ASAP!!!
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deadpresidents · 21 hours ago
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If Joe Biden asked you to marry him, how would you react?
I'd probably encourage the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment if the 79-year-old, seemingly-happily-married-for-decades President of the United States -- whom I have never met in my life -- randomly proposed marriage to me. I'm not an expert on Presidential disability, but that would be a troubling situation.
(And it would be even more worrisome if someone who DID know me proposed marriage because that would mean they were seriously lacking in judgment!)
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deadpresidents · 21 hours ago
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Are you a Christian?
No, I am not.
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deadpresidents · 21 hours ago
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Is there any kind of history that people would be surprised to know you are interested in?
I don't know what people would be surprised about, but I'm interested in most areas of history. Obviously, my main interest has always been the Presidency, but I go through phases where I get into various other subjects more intensely for stretches of time.
I think people who have followed my blog for a long time know that I've always had a healthy interest in the Papacy and even toyed with a blog about Papal history before getting lazy. That's always been something I've spent quite a bit of time studying and have built up a pretty good personal library of books on Popes and the Papacy.
Other than that, I just enjoy a pretty wide variety of historical subjects. I guess people might not realize that I've always had a major interest in Arab history, particularly modern (from the 18th Century to present) Arab government, military and political leaders. I'm fascinated by the Arabic language and the many remarkable figures in modern history to come from the diversity of the Arab world in the Middle East and throughout North Africa. I think anyone digging through my personal library would find a disproportionate number of books on those subjects compared to, say, Chinese or Russian history.
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deadpresidents · a day ago
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Sad to hear about David McCullough dying recently. He's written some great biographies.
Yes, I was also saddened by his recent passing. When it comes to writers and historians, David McCullough has always been one of my heroes. I feel that very few historians have had the ability to make such deeply-researched, scholarly work as readable as David McCullough was able to do. In almost every instance, his books were as literary as they were historical, and that required very distinct talents as a storyteller. When I was growing up, it was McCullough who first made me realize that, when done masterfully at the highest level, writing history could be a form of art. And David McCullough was clearly an artist.
I've been a fan of pretty much every book that David McCullough ever wrote, from his biographies of John Adams (undoubtedly my favorite of his Presidential biographies), Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry S Truman to The Johnstown Flood and The Great Bridge, among others. And while his entire bibliography is worth checking out, I think his masterpiece is The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914. I'll miss his voice (as a writer, of course, but also his literal voice as a narrator of documentaries) and am disappointed that we won't get new books from him, but he leaves behind a legendary library of work and I'll always be grateful for the example he set as a writer and as a lifelong advocate for expanding history literacy in the United States.
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deadpresidents · 8 days ago
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You sure haven't said much about the history around a former president's house getting raided by the fbi and then him pleading the fifth in the same week.
Yeah, I know...it's been a crazy week in the Presidential history business. Unfortunately, COVID also chose this week to finally get around to spending some quality time with me, so I've been battling it since Saturday. I'm fully vaccinated, so it's just kicking the shit out of me instead of killing me, thankfully, but I'd very much like for it to go away now.
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deadpresidents · 8 days ago
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I don’t know how the Grim Reaper caught Gene Lebell, but he had to have been cheating. If it had been a fair fight, Judo Gene would be using that cloak as his newest black belt.
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deadpresidents · 9 days ago
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Don’t fuck with the National Archives.
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deadpresidents · 12 days ago
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I cannot give an enthusiastic enough recommendation to check out this new book by Brian Gewirtz, former head writer for WWE and longtime producing partner of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
There’s Just One Problem...True Tales from the Former, One-Time, 7th Most Powerful Person in WWE (BOOK | KINDLE) is a fascinating journey behind-the-scenes of WWE during what was arguably the most entertaining era of the company’s history. It’s one of the best books I’ve read about professional wrestling and undoubtedly the funniest, which is no surprise considering Gewirtz was responsible for writing segments like The Rock’s legendary Rock Concert and his interactions with The Hurricane (which are still hilarious 20 years later). Don’t hesitate in checking out this book once it is available! 
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deadpresidents · 16 days ago
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Thoughts on Dr. Oz for senator?
Famous doctors that I'd rather see in the U.S. Senate than Dr. Oz:
•Dr. Dre •Dr. J •Doctor Strange •Doc Holliday •Mr. Doctor (nobody knows who that is unless they really know the mid-90s hip-hop scene in Sacramento or literally grew up in the Garden Blocc, but I stand by the choice) •Dr. Seuss •Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman •Dr. Evil •Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D.
I mean, the list could go on-and-on...
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deadpresidents · 16 days ago
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Sexiest first Lady in your opinion? Are you a Martha Washington guy or would you get freaky with Abigail Lincoln?
Who is Abigail Lincoln?
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deadpresidents · 16 days ago
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PLEASE settle this debate between me & my friend! Was Eleanor Roosevelt a blood relative to Teddy or was she related by marriage when she married Franklin????
Eleanor Roosevelt was Theodore Roosevelt's favorite niece. She was the only child of TR's only brother and, as President, Theodore Roosevelt gave Eleanor away at her and Franklin's wedding. Theodore and FDR were fifth cousins. So, not only was Eleanor also a blood relative of Theodore Roosevelt but she was a much closer relation to TR than Franklin was.
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deadpresidents · 19 days ago
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Are you a Hamilton or are you a Burr??
I'm a Burr. Mostly because of that time I killed a guy in New Jersey.
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deadpresidents · 19 days ago
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What muppet would be the best president?
First of all, this might be the best question I've ever been asked. And I don't just mean on the blog -- I mean, this might be the best question anyone has ever asked me about anything in my life.
It's really a question that deserves extensive research and consideration, but I'm just going to tell you that the first two Muppets that came to mind were Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Rizzo the Rat. I think I'd just feel we'd be in safer hands with either of those two. I mean, Gonzo is a disaster and I'm not 100% sure that Fozzie Bear and George W. Bush aren't the same person anyway.
I'd probably go with Rizzo over Bunsen if I had to choose one Muppet. I always think it's important for a President to have some street smarts and common sense, even more than book smarts or educational credentials. Plus, I hate to seem like I'm discriminating against somebody with a handicap, but Bunsen literally has no eyeballs. Not only is that problematic physically but it would also be an easy target for his political opponents who wanted to attack him for having no vision as a leader.
I know most people would probably pick Kermit the Frog, but I don't think Kermit is a strong leader. I need my President to be able to stand up for himself and the frog has been in a very public, very abusive relationship for damn near 50 years. Someone who can't get their own life under control isn't the type of Muppet who should be the nation's chief executive. When I look into Kermit's eyes, I see some real darkness inside of him. I've just never trusted Kermit the Frog and certainly wouldn't trust him with the nuclear launch codes. Quite frankly, I think Kermit the Frog is a sociopath.
This question obviously deserves a deep dive by political scientists and Presidential scholars, so thank you for asking it.
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deadpresidents · 19 days ago
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Japan was a developing country in the early C20. Rapidly expanding population, running out of food. Trying to industrialize. Needed markets to sell manufactured goods so she could pay for food and raw materials.
We (and the Europeans, too, but mostly us) slapped tariffs on Japanese goods because we didn't want the competition.
We prohibited Japanese emigration to California and Hawaii… not because the Japanese were troublesome or difficult immigrants; they weren't. It was racism, pure and simple. California anti-Asian racism in this period was as virulent as anything the Deep South ever produced. And if you look closely at it, btw, California whites hated and feared Japanese because they worked harder and so seemed more threatening (no, I'm not making this up… look at the literature of the period. Mexicans weren't considered a threat because they were "lazy".)
Having grabbed large chunks of the best Pacific real estate for ourselves (California/Oregon, Hawaii, Samoa, the Philippines…) we screamed blue murder when Japan sought to expand. Again, I'm talking about 1910-30 here… after the Russo-Japanese war, before Manchuria. We did everything we could to diddle Japan out of her gains from WWI, including going back on our sworn word (the Lansing-Ishii agreement) When we found that wasn't going to work, we built the world's biggest naval drydock in Pearl Harbor in 1919.
At Versailles we vetoed a racial equality clause that Japan wanted to have included in the charter of the League of Nations. We made it quite clear that this was because we didn't want to treat the Japanese as equals.
In '22, having botched the intervention against the Bolsheviks, we pulled out and left Japan holding the bag. Japan, poorest and weakest of the Allied powers, was told that she alone was supposed to carry on the fight against the Red Terror. When the Japanese refused to be the fall guys, and pulled out of Siberia, we blamed them for the failure. Don't take my word for it… read the contemperaneous commentary.
When Japan tried to expand peacefully in China -- economic expansion, not invasion or settlement -- we screamed blue murder, and sent gunboats in to help Chinese warlords "resist". Shockingly enough, these interventions tended to take place most often in areas where US companies had investments, and where Japanese competition (peaceful, economic competition) seemed most "threatening". We've conveniently forgotten about this period of our history, but the US repeatedly sent gonboats and small military units into China to "protect" US interests. Often what we were protecting them from was Japanese competition (N.B., for an excellent fictional treatment of this period, check out Richard McKenna's wonderful novel The Sand Pebbles).
The Japanese attack on the Panay in '37 was inexcusable but not inexplicable. Gunboats just like it had been pushing the Japanese around in China for a long, long time. We euphemistically called this "dollar diplomacy". Actually it was old-fashioned gunboat diplomacy… pushing around the natives, just like the British in Africa or the French in Indochina. Except that the Japanese were not inclined to be treated like natives forever.
I could go on -- there's lots more -- but I think you get the point. With no outlet for peaceful economic expansion, no chance of draining of surplus population through emigration, US and western "competitors" backed by guns and gunboats at every turn locking up the markets that Japan desperately needed to survive… is it any wonder that militarism and conquest started to look like attractive options? Keep in mind that at this point it was less than a century since we had conquered northern Mexico and just twenty years since we'd snitched the Philippines. French and British conquests in Asia were still fresh in living memory. So why (the Japanese asked themselves in the 1920s) was Japan not allowed to expand?
Look… I'm NOT apologizing for the excesses of Imperial Japan. They killed millions in China; they attacked without warning at Pearl. They were evil, and the world is well rid of that regime.
But, again, the Japanese didn't "choose" militarism in a vacuum. We gave them a good, hard shove in that direction.
Had we allowed some Japanese immigration… not fought them at every turn diplomatically… not zapped their exports again and again with tariffs… and agreed to let them expand peacefully through investment in China and East Asia… well, it's very questionable whether they would have gone for militarism. They could have supported themselves through trade instead of conquest… they did just that after 1950, and they're doing it right now today.
We would, by the by, have missed out on the Pacific half of WWII. Oh, and goodness knows what China would look like, but it certainly wouldn't be Communist.
Basically we would have gotten a 30 to 40 year head start on the Pacific Rim economy of the late 20th cen.
Well, it didn't happen. But let's just remember that we made some god-awful dumb mistakes, okay? Nobody seems to be aware of the long history of US stupidity in Asia… this chapter has just fallen out of the history books… but it did happen and there are lessons to be learned from it.
It's always confusing when I get answers to questions I never asked and debated with about subjects I've literally never brought up, so I'm not sure what to say.
(Also, any time someone qualifies what they are saying with, “Look...I’m not apologizing for [insert atrocity/awful person]”, they are usually totally apologizing for it.)
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deadpresidents · 19 days ago
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Since someone else asked a question about presidential facial hair, I noticed in some pictures Benjamin Harrison had a longer, somewhat stringier beard, while in other pictures, his beard seemed shorter. When were those times in relation to his presidency?
I'm not 100% sure on Benjamin Harrison. He definitely had a longer beard when he was younger and serving as a General during the Civil War, but there are photos of him with longer and shorter beards when he was an older man.
This is a photo of Harrison being sworn in as President in 1889, but you can't really tell how long his beard is at that time because he's bundled up from the weather (he obviously learned a lesson from his grandfather's fatal mistake at the 1841 inauguration):
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He definitely had a shorter beard in the following photo, which also features his Secretary of States James G. Blaine. Blaine resigned due to failing health and died before Harrison's term ended, so the photo is almost certainly during Harrison's Presidency, possibly from 1889:
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So, President Harrison did have a shorter beard at least at some point during his time in the White House. I just don't know if he wore different styles throughout his Presidency.
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deadpresidents · 19 days ago
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Things sure got a little crazy in Nashville tonight.
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